Ignite Blog by:
Jennifer Wilson and
At ConvergenceCoaching, we’ve been running a completely remote and flexible business for 21 years. In that time, we have seen first-hand how these philosophies and programs allow us to attract talent and clients from anywhere in the country. We have guided accounting and consulting clients in applying the principles with great success as well, demonstrating that organizations of all sizes and service mixes can successfully operate with a blend of remote and in-office personnel while offering a variety of options as to when they complete their work.
In December of 2020, we shared the results of the fifth edition of our Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey, a biennial study of the remote and flex work practices of accounting and consulting firms in the U.S. In this latest survey, we studied firms’ rush to remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As expected, the crisis offered new opportunities to embrace and leverage remote; in addition, there were challenges as firms “jumped into the remote and flex pool” without the opportunity to prepare more fully. Despite the emergency move to remote and the less-than-ideal conditions with lockdowns, isolation, and childcare issues, firms overwhelmingly experienced that remote can work. In fact, when asked to predict their remote work policies post-pandemic, 81% of responding firms shared that they expect an increase or significant increase in the number of team members working remote. The signs are pointing towards a “more-remote” future for work.
Technology plays an integral part in the move to more remote – after all, advances in computing, mobile devices, high-speed connectivity, and the internet allow us to complete our work from anywhere. Technology also fuels successful remote work by making it simpler and easier to exchange files, collaborate on work, keep track of deadlines, manage our team’s capacity and output, and more. The importance of technology to both remote work and running a successful firm in this era cannot be overstated, which means that leaders must make investments in technology now more than ever.
Some might feel like we are in the home stretch of managing this pandemic and hope that soon things will “return to normal.” As Next Gen talent and clients rise into leadership positions, they are embracing a more digital experience and want more of a blend between in-person and remote work. So, hoping things will “go back” to normal would be a mistake. Instead, use this time as an accelerator. Don’t slow down – speed up! Once the crisis is past, we need to be ready for the more digital client and prepared to seamlessly manage the increasing number of extreme weather events like polar vortexes, snowstorms, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and the like.
Consider these five strategies to progress your technology readiness for a “more remote” or blended future for your organization:
- Invest in for the right “anywhere work” set up for every team member – when asked what technologies they planned to invest in to support remote work going forward, 54% of respondents said “encouraging home setups for all employees” and “implementing laptops for all employees.” We have been talking about laptops for years and were surprised by how many of our clients were still over-invested in desktop computers when the pandemic hit. Stories abound of how firms scrambled during the initial “rush to remote” to package up desktop systems and send them home with employees – an inconvenient, messy but necessary solution to the crisis. Laptop technology has reached the point where everyone, including administrative team members, should be regularly operating on a portable computer that can be easily transported as needed.
- Digitize internal operations – Our clients in NYC experienced a rude awakening when the pandemic shut down mail delivery for weeks at a time. Even if mail was delivered, their administrative personnel couldn’t get into the office due to shutdowns, so they were unable to deposit paper checks, bringing needed cash deposits to a halt. This is just one example of the many internal functions inside organizations that are still paper-based and require on-premises management of paper. All of these processes must be digitized. We encourage you to start somewhere – maybe Finance – and then branch out to all areas of internal operations over the next year to identify processes that need to be digitized or upgraded to fit a new “more remote” paradigm. Consider sales and marketing (electronic proposal and engagement letter and e-signature processes, pipeline management), finance (e-invoicing, e-money collection, and payment systems), human resources (historical files, new hire paperwork, orientation and onboarding documentation, evaluation processes), and IT (ticket support systems, remote management of machines, remote support).
When asked the hardest aspects of transitioning to remote, 41% of respondents said, “We weren’t fully paperless.”
- Train your internal and external stakeholders to use portal technologies – One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the accelerated adoption of technology tools by internal team members, as well as clients and customers. Use of these tools has been slow for years as firms worked under the assumption that most clients were not ready…but clients rose to the challenge when COVID-19 closed offices and paper was thought to be dangerous. Keep that transition going with your stakeholders! Record and publish short videos on how to use your communication and file-sharing tools. Ask administrative personnel to hold brief walk-through calls with clients or team members who are struggling. And look at investments in improved portals that offer smartphone apps, checklists for clients and other sophisticated and easy-to-use self-service options to simplify clients’ ability to stay on track with projects and engagements.
64% of survey respondents plan to invest in portal tools to share documents with clients.
- Embrace the use of video to connect and engage – Video showed up throughout our 2020 survey. First, video is a way to stay in touch and connected with team members working at home or in other offices. It creates accountability and a feeling of togetherness during remote learning programs and check-in meetings. With clients, video facilitates rapport when we cannot meet them in person due to the pandemic or their geographic location. It has been a critical tool during remote inventory audits and augments communication to maintain forward momentum for prompt audit completion. As you can see from these examples (and there are many more!), video is key in today’s “more remote” environment. Your team’s adoption of video is critical too. Ask your people to use video – with team members, with clients, with prospects – and report success stories of its implementation. Make video use a new norm during meetings and have it be “politically incorrect” to leave your camera off during team meetings. Have your leaders act as role models for the use of video, both internally and externally with their clients. Actions like these will help your team members (and your broader business network) step over their concerns and fears about video and embrace it as the impactful communication tool it can be!
23% of responding firms plan to implement video cameras for all employees while 9% are investing in video cameras for remote clients.
- Take more of your applications and data to the cloud – Our goal is that firms are more prepared to deal with whatever disruptions arrive in the future, and cloud-based applications are an important tool in that effort. In April of 2020, SmartVault surveyed over 1,100 accounting professionals around the world about the impact of COVID-19 on their business. The survey found that firms utilizing more cloud-based technology experienced minimal disruption when shifting to work from home. Cloud applications can be accessed from multiple devices on and off the organization’s network, providing flexibility to the user for where and when the work gets done, and they allow your team members and clients to collaborate on projects even when they are in different geographic locations. Take the plunge and increase your investments in cloud computing in 2021 and beyond.
When asked what remote work technology enablers would merit investment over the next two years,
27% of respondents planned to move to more cloud-based applications.
A recent FlexJobs survey of more than 4,000 people who have been working remotely during the pandemic found that 65% said they would prefer to work at home full-time after the COVID-19 crisis passes. Another 31% reported that they prefer a blended work approach, working some days at home and others in the office. We are convinced that across the economy, and especially in accounting, we will see more remote work going forward. Be proactive about the move to a more-remote future and progress your firm’s technology strategy today!
Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder and Renee Moelders is a partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and talent management consulting firm that helps leaders achieve success.
The Ignite blog is an official publication of the Kansas Society of CPAs, Copyright 2021
Check out KSCPA's new Remote Control Toolkit - Accounting teams can thrive and be purposeful when working remotely - see how to take control.